Meeting Faux Pas. Are you guilty?
Contributing Author: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair
There is no shortage of bad-meeting memes.
“There goes an hour of my life I’ll never get back”
“I survived another 60-minute meeting that should have been a 30-second email”
or my favorite: “So, in conclusion, we didn’t really need this meeting but I got my power fix for the day”
We’ve all heard the phrase death by meetings and in our profession it’s a real thing. As the pandemic-related, zoom-facilitated ability to meet without even being in the same room overtakes our calendars, our time to do all things other than work-talk seems to be dwindling.
Some mornings I preview my double-booked, color-coded calendar and wonder if I will be able to eat that day. Forget about going for a run, having lunch with an old friend or finishing the book I started months ago.
A while back, I was trying to re-schedule a weekly meeting with my management team and was having a hard time finding a time that would work for everyone. I suggested noon. My astute Chief Deputy respectfully spoke up. “Noon meetings aren’t ideal. That’s the only time I can get away to work out.” He was absolutely right. We have so many early-morning and noon meetings anymore — at the expense of self-care, down time and sustenance. We were able to find an alternate time that would usually work for most and I committed to doing my best to avoid scheduling meetings at times that will negatively impact my employees’ well-being. I’ve annoyingly started reminding other meeting organizers the importance of being more “time-sensitive.”
Meetings are important or else we wouldn’t do them. In fact, if done right, “meeting” with our people promotes connectivity and the exchange of essential information. But more often than not, it feels like a waste of precious time.
How can we do meetings better?
5 ways attendees can make the most of meetings:
Clarify the purpose of the meeting if it isn’t clear before committing if you have the option. With that information you are able to determine if you really need to be there or if you are the best person for that particular discussion. Finding out before the meeting gives you time to pivot.
Make a finite commitment if you are able to attend and communicate that to the organizer. This is especially helpful for meetings that tend to run long or lack efficiency. “This is an important topic. I have 30 minutes to discuss it and then have another engagement.”
Be aggressive about scheduling your self-care time. If you go to the gym during your lunch hour, block it several days per week and, when asked to attend a non-essential noon meeting, politely decline citing your scheduling conflict. Prioritize activity that keeps you at your best.
Put your device away. I used to say, “Don’t bring your phone,” but they’ve become essential for scheduling and useful for fast-checking important information. But turn the sound off and please don’t scroll through your email, or worse, social media while your teammates are talking. Be engaged.
Avoid the “after-meeting meeting.” Recognize the tendency to have a “meeting after the meeting,” — the post-meeting buzz when some employees relive conflict that may have arisen and garner support for a particular stance. After-meetings are common yet usually unproductive and divisive. Commit to work toward consensus, efficiency, and helping the facilitator make your time matter. Instead of waiting until later, speak up at the actual meeting with the people present who need to hear your position.
How organizers can lead better meetings:
Be mindful when scheduling. I know this sounds obvious, but schedule during normal business hours. Early morning meetings are brutal to people caring for children and add an hour to two hours onto an already long work day. Avoid scheduling lunch meetings, even though that slot may look like an attractive option. If the meeting must be at noon, provide food or encourage attendees to bring a lunch. If your virtual meeting spans people who live in different time zones, be mindful of their 8:00 a.m. and adjust accordingly — if you want them to be awake.
Draft a focused agenda and send it out as early as possible. Agendas with three or less items promote better conversations and shorter meetings.
Cancel the meeting. Good meetings either facilitate connection or foster essential discussion, or both. If that isn’t going to happen due to an important person’s absence or change in circumstances, it is ok to cancel. And, don’t use meetings as a platform to make general announcements. Instead use email for anything that doesn’t require discussion or consensus.
Provide context in the invitation. Tell the invitees what the meeting will be about, what you hope to accomplish and generally who will attend. With clarity about context, the invitees will be better prepared and your meeting will be more productive and efficient. I can’t count the number of calendar-invites I get and, if I can’t tell from the invite what it is about or who will be there, I often decline.
Document the action plan that emerges from the conversation. Decide on who will do what next steps and agree on a timeline.
Follow up on your action items and report back, if necessary.
Keep it short. I’m a huge fan of the 15-minute meeting. But some of the best heartfelt support I’ve witnessed emerged off topic and at the end of the agenda. Knowing when to allow organic development and when to re-direct and wrap is an art.
Bring treats. OK, this one is optional. I’m just sayin…
Kirsten Pabst chairs NDAA’s Well-being Task Force and serves as the County Attorney for Missoula County, Montana.